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Darnell J. Barton, a bear of a man with an even bigger heart, was driving his Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority bus with 20 McKinley High School students aboard at the end of a school day last October when he spotted a distraught woman preparing to end her life by jumping from an Elmwood Avenue overpass into Scajaquada Expressway traffic.

Barton stopped the bus, and what happened next provided the students with a lesson that could never be replicated in a classroom.

His was a real-life lesson in compassion, and that is why he has been selected as one of seven Citizens of the Year by The Buffalo News.

As others walked or drove by, ignoring the troubled woman, Barton made a split-second decision to help.

Stepping from his bus, he gently approached her and when she turned her head away from him, he grabbed her. A moment later, they were both on the safe side of the overpass railing, sitting on the sidewalk, with help on the way from first responders.

“I looked at that woman on the overpass, and I could identify with her,” said Barton, 38, explaining that a memory flashed into his mind from several years earlier when depression had driven him to the brink of despair.

“I was sitting on the edge of my bed, and in one hand I was holding a Bible and in the other a firearm. I said to God, ‘What are we going to do?’ I set down the firearm and put my face in my hands and started crying. Ever since then, it’s been destiny and having a mission,” Barton recalled of how his heroic deed came to be.

He basked for months in the national spotlight, receiving $10,000 from Donald Trump and appearing on celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s television show.

But through it all, he remained humble and always credited his faith in God for his actions that saved a life.

– Lou Michel